Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


How do you categorise a book like this? Is it horror? Yes, but it’s all in the mind of the reader. Is it a murder mystery? Not really, although everyone in the novel walks in the aftermath of a murder. Is it a psychological drama? If so, it’s one with lots of humour and irony.

It’s pretty easy to figure out that Merricat was the murderer those six years ago, even before it’s spelled out by Constance before the end, and one of the true mysteries of the book is why no one in town is able to see this. Did they think a 12-year old with a passion for deadly mushrooms wasn’t capable of putting arsenic in a sugar bowl? Did they find pleasure in knowing better than the legal system, harassing Constance for a crime she had been acquitted of? Or are they just cruel, even more cruel than a murderer and her defender, cruel like cousin Charles with his false flattery and all too real greed?

Even at the end of the story, when the two sisters are half-forgotten creatures of myth, when the house is overgrown by vine, the townsfolk do not become nice to Merricat and Constance out of the goodness of their heart: they do so out of fear, out of shame, out of trying to get some repentance for wrecking the house. And neither the two sisters do feel any shame for their actions, nor do they feel the need to like the townsfolk, or mingle with them, even the few who are truly friendly to them. They take the food they’re offered, only to take it apart and rebuild it. They are happy to live boarded up in their ‘castle’, three rooms out of a whole house, with the rest destroyed or locked up.

No one wins in this story. There is no easy morale. There is just a castle on the moon, and the banality of evil.

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